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When you're away from home during Lunar New Year, broaden the definition of family

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

What you're hearing is traditional Chinese music that's often played during the Lunar New Year, which is this weekend.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In China, that means fireworks and dancing and gifts of red envelopes. You give people red envelopes filled with money, especially kids. And there's also a lot of cooking.

MARTÍNEZ: Whatever time of the day, there will also be plenty of food on the table so that everyone who would go there would have to eat something.

INSKEEP: King-Kok Cheung is a professor of Asian American studies at UCLA, and she shared with us some of the ways that she celebrates.

MARTÍNEZ: For Cheung and many others, the heart of the holiday is simple.

KING-KOK CHEUNG: Family, because that's the time when you have to go home.

INSKEEP: Regular life in China comes to a halt. Schools and businesses close. Hundreds of millions of people who moved to cities for work travel home to their villages to visit family.

MARTÍNEZ: Since Cheung lives far away from relatives, she's broadened her definition of family.

CHEUNG: I do have folks that I feel as close as family all over the world, whether we're talking about Egypt or Europe or, you know, Southeast Asia and so forth.

INSKEEP: There's even a place in her home for people she never met.

CHEUNG: I'm so-and-so's cousin, whatever. Can I come stay with you for a few days? I'm passing through Los Angeles. I would say, oh, no problem.

MARTÍNEZ: The recent lifting of COVID restrictions in China means many people are finally able to see family in person again.

CHEUNG: Everyone is just so happy that they could finally go home.

INSKEEP: And for many, this new year may be emotional because of the loss of loved ones from COVID.

CHEUNG: It's almost not sensitive to just say Happy New Year, for instance. Instead, I use the other common saying, (non-English language spoken), meaning that may your whole family be healthy and peaceful.

MARTÍNEZ: But Lunar New Year also marks a new beginning.

CHEUNG: We are all hoping that the new year would chase away all the bad things.

INSKEEP: So here's to a happy, prosperous and healthy Year of the Rabbit.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE HAGGIS HORNS' "HAGGIS EXPRESS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.